These Little Post-It Notes Saved My Sanity

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I’m thrilled to see more people get vaccinated every day, but I’m still hesitant when it comes to booking travel. I think “normalcy” is still a long time off. Even once I’m vaccinated (I’m not yet), do I want to eat dinner in a crowded restaurant? Should I pack myself onto the metro to get around? Is it even responsible to head somewhere if local residents haven’t had the same access to a vaccine? Talk about privilege.

Still, I’m not one to ignore the possibility of travel entirely. Traveling — and planning travel — is what makes me tick. I love the exploration, the change of pace, and the challenges that pop up along the way. I’m sure someone out there would tell me there are other ways to experience the same natural highs, but despite trying several new hobbies this year, I haven’t found what works for me (at least, not within the other confines of life in general right now).

At first, I tried coping by making a “Buffalo bucket list” of local activites or day trips that seemed reasonably plausible even under today’s restrictions. It had activities like checking out a new state park, doing at-home beer tastings, and day tripping to places I haven’t been. I assumed that having something to look forward to would do wonders for my sanity.

chimney bluffs state park
Chimney Bluffs State Park, a long but worthwhile day trip from Buffalo

While it was great to have an idea list, it wasn’t enough. It didn’t feel tangible and I lacked the motivation to follow through with any of them. Many of them were things I could do but that I wasn’t actually excited about. They might be fun if I could go with a friend, but on my own, I had no passion.

Going through the list, I crossed a lot of items off without ever trying them. A few remained. As life would have it, the ideas still on my list were the most unrealistic ones. Ones that may be challenging under today’s restrictions or weather dependent (in a very fickle time of year) or coincidentally at a busy time of the week when I’d be preoccupied with other, more responsible endeavors.

Still, I owed to myself to at least try. I started putting some of them on the calendar, only to learn that a calendar full of cross-outs is even more depressing than an empty one. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

But here’s the thing about mental health, if you don’t know it already: inertia is very, very real. Sulking about one thing turns into sulking about two. It’s hard to climb out of a hole but better to climb as soon as possible instead of waiting until you’re deeper.

Enter the post-it note.

sticky notes

When staying at home and doing nothing isn’t an option, but watching plans fail is just as bad, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. My solution — so astronomically simple that I can’t believe it worked — was writing plans on post-it notes and attaching them to specific dates on the calendar. Of course everything was dependent on a best case scenario, but if circumstances changed, plans were moved instead of erased. Instead of seeing cross-outs (physical reminders of what didn’t work out), I saw hope for what could be in the future.

If you can’t change reality, at least change your mindset.

Flipping through the calendar and seeing plans is both motivational and practical. It makes me feel like I have a life again. On the practical side, having a visual representation means I’m prepared in advance for any reservations I need to pull together and that I remember to cancel things if they don’t work out (*sigh* there goes the Brazil sticky note).

calendar with post it notes

Here’s the best part of starting to make plans: that same mental inertia carries you forward. I started by writing down things like a walk in the park and before I knew it, I had two dozen sticky notes. There are sporadic events beyond that, too: professional conferences I hope to attend (even if they end up virtual), a half marathon to run, and returning to some of my favorite places across the border as soon as Canada allows.

I know not everything will come to fruition but I’m willing to bet that I’ll still do more than if I planned nothing. Overall, it’s a win.

How to Fill Your Calendar

Pull Out a Map

Start looking for day-trippable destinations that you’ve never been to and take the time to research what there is to do there. At ninety minutes away, Chatauqua NY had never been on my radar before, but turns out there’s enough to do to justify a drive as soon as the trees bud up. You probably have an equivalent destination somewhere near you.

If a map isn’t enough detail for you, stalk your state park website. There are probably places you’ve never heard of before!

Find Scheduled Events

Events that are offered at a set time are great for building anticipation, even when they’re virtual. I don’t know enough about psychology to explain why this is, but I think registering for an activity and knowing that other people will be doing the exact same thing at the exact same time helps it feel “real”.

Some activities on my radar that might inspire you to start looking, too…instructor-led painting classes you can do at home, Rick Steves’ Monday Night Travel, and Harvard’s online classes.

Make a Game from the Mundane

Lenten fish fries are a big fundraiser in Buffalo and right now we’re working our way through Buffalo’s fire departments every Friday. We collected a list of nearby options and are ordering takeout from a different one each week (yes, with a scheduled list to make it feel more official and to make sure we don’t miss anything along the way). By Easter, we should have a favorite.

My guess is your local area has something it’s famous for — no, it doesn’t have to be food — but some sort of ongoing, themed challenge is a fun way to break up routine.

Yes, Book Travel

We have travel on the calendar now (and not just that blasted Brazil trip that I need to cancel).

Some of it is specific: Arkansas in April, for example, for another socially-distant adventure.

Once again, I’m choosing a vacation rental where I cook my own meals and spend my days 100% outdoors. I’m not sick of these types of trips yet, despite following this format in Wyoming and New Hampshire, and this trip will get me really close to visiting all 50 states. More on that in a future post.

Other trips are more nebulous. We’re earmarking time to return to Richmond (at long last) and putting two separate weeks on the calendar for more traditional travel. The destinations and activities are narrowed down but not selected, though the time off from work is real. It’s precisely the “real-ness” that is keeping me going.

Here’s the thing about post-it notes. It sounds like a lame exercise, but they’ve changed my outlook on everything. Instead of feeling defeated, I feel uplifted. It feels like I have control over the future again and as someone who desperately needs structure in her life, this made all the difference.

More than vaccines, more than lowered case counts, more than anything…these post-it notes bring me hope.

post it note planning

What are you planning for? And how are you doing it? Share your brilliant ideas in the comments!

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